Adults, can we have a conversation?
Less than 5 percent of Americans have college savings accounts, and those who do are far wealthier than average.How Paying for College Is Changing Middle-Class Life, Caitlin Zaloom
How in the world are Kristen and I unicorns because we saved for college?
Look, we are pretty cool, but we just aren’t that particularly responsible people. We shouldn’t fit into the top 5% of people in any category. If you know us in person you know how completely average we are!
We started our kids 529 plans when they were in utero. At the time I was a college student myself, working full-time and trying to finish my degree full-time so I could quit my corporate job and go work at a church.
Starting a college savings account isn’t for the wealthy, it’s for poor people like me and you! And it’s not like my own parents were a great role model in this department. As much as my parents supported me and wanted me to go to college, they didn’t have money to help me pay for school. In fact, I meandered my way through undergrad and paid my own way, graduating debt free. (Despite what you hear, this is entirely possible today. But that’s another blog post for another day.)
It’s not as hard as it sounds. We started back in 2001 by saving $25/month. Literally, not having HBO or skipping a meal out each month. Did it hurt a little? Sure, when I left my corporate job I worked for a church for $32,000/year. We joke about it now but there were some lean times in there where we ate a lot of ramen, rice & beans, and veggies dropped off by church members from their gardens. But we kept that $25/month going. Then somewhere along the line we decided we could afford $40/month. Then $50/month. Then $50/pay period or $100/month. Then $75/pay period. And so on. It really hasn’t been that hard but it’s really added up.
And you know what? With our oldest heading off to college in just a couple weeks and, as long as costs hold reasonably steady, we’re going to be able to get her across the finish line for her undergrad degree debt free. Yes, she’ll have to contribute, too. But it’s entirely doable.
No doubt, she’ll take on debt in life. And if she goes to grad school she’ll take on a ton of debt herself. But we aren’t mortgaging her (or OUR) future to do it.
Again, we aren’t privileged. We aren’t rich. And we’re not particularly even good with money. We just weaseled away money every month.
Become a Unicorn and Start Today
I’m no different than you. My timeline on Facebook and Instagram is full of parents-to-be and new babies.
If you can afford a professional photographer to document your pregnancy and baby’s infancy… heck, if you can afford a smartphone to post pictures on Instagram… you can afford to start saving for college today.
We’re literally talking about the cost of a trip to Chipotle. Or, an avocado toast and mimosa brunch… yeah, I see you.
Stop the excuses and grow up.
It infuriates me that parents in every suburb in this country waste time and money investing more in soccer (or hockey) in some vain hope that their child will get an athletic scholarship while they have literally saved $0 for college.
Listen to me, very very few universities offer full rides for non-revenue sports. Most of the players, even at major universities, are maybe sharing a 1/10th scholarship for a sport like soccer. Even at top schools there may only be 2-3 full scholarship athletes in soccer. And let’s be real– your kid isn’t that good. So why in the world would you be able to afford to pay thousands of dollars to be on a travel team and thousands of dollars for a private position coach and NOT put thousands of dollars away for college? It’s literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
What’s happening is that you’ve been sold a lie by a soccer coach selling his services.
Just take that same money and put it in a college fund, sign your kid up for a rec league, they’ll be just as happy.
How do I start?
Pick a 529 plan and start putting $25/month in there like it’s a bill. For real, cancel HBO if you have to. It’s just not that much money. Ours comes right out of our checking account, I don’t even think about it.
Start a Roth IRA. Though you might need a minimum of $500 to kick that off. (Literally, an amazing baby shower gift! Ask your parents.)
Several years ago I started tricking myself into saving more for our kid’s college accounts. Any extra income I received, say from a speaking gig or a refund or something like that which was unbudgeted income… I just put half of it into my Roth IRA.
Want to know what’s crazy? That strategy has resulted in what amounts to a YEAR of college paid for. What the whhhhaaaaattttt?